You could become a police officer

IN OCTOBER 1970, nine young people, including me, assembled in a room at University College in London’s Gower Street. It was the first day of our three-year course that would end with us being awarded Batchelor’s degrees in mammalian physiology. During the first year, we studied basic sciences and mathematics and had sparingly little to do with the Physiology Department. However, once a week someone from the department gave us a tutorial during which a variety of subjects were discussed. Often, these were conducted by an amiable lecturer, Jim Pascoe, a Cornishman with a strong Cornish accent.

During one of these sessions, one of us, Jenny, asked Mr Pascoe:

“What can we do with this degree?”

Pascoe thought for a minute, and said in all seriousness:

“You could become a policeman.”

What he said was not as frivolous as it sounded. With the exception of some professional training first degrees, such as medicine, dentistry, veterinary science, law, and architecture, most first degrees are essentially brain training courses. Good first degrees can lead their holders anywhere. They leave university with enhanced intellectual development and, maybe, a few other life skills. What Jim Pascoe said was a good answer.

So, what happened to the nine of us who first met each other in a room near Gower Street one morning in October 1970?  One of us, a man, dropped out after one year. Four of us became academics. The last I heard of Janet was that she was working towards a PhD in goldfish behaviour. Allegra, probably the brightest person on our course, became a practitioner of acupuncture.  Lopa, who is now my wife, became a banker, then a barrister. I became a practising dentist. And Jenny did not become a police officer – she qualified as a medical doctor.

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